05 June 2017


Daughters of the American Revolution as well as Sons of the American Revolution are two membership groups that honor those who can prove ancestry to a Patriot, that's to say someone who helped the United States in its war of independence from The British. (But we are just so interested in Pippa Middleton's wedding aren't we?) Let me say that I've met some "experts" who live to help people prove their connection, and sometimes the Patriot gave a soldier a cup of water from the well, under, of course, threat of being harmed or killed for doing so, but never saw military action.  One expert told me some years ago that DAR was questioning some of the memberships that had been granted and were politely informing some people they were no longer members. The reason was that the references that had been used were no longer considered authoritative. I believed him.

One of the best things to do before you submit is use the resources a DAR or SAR library or their books of members at public libraries.  If you can prove you're related to someone who is already a member, that's certainly helpful.

That's why recently I advised someone that though they were "in" due to their deceased brother's research, they should double check all his research before going any further.  This is a situation in which genealogy myopia can easily set in and that's why having another person who is professional or holds themselves to professional standards look at the work can be a good idea.  It wasn't that I suspected her brother of any wrong doing.  In fact I suspected that she would find his research was worthy of DAR.  But I strongly believe that when you inherit someone else's research (or their warm and fuzzy family memory book) that you familiarize yourself with that work, check it, add to it, and be sure you really aren't tracing a wrong family.  It happens.  Especially when the surnames are more common.

This researcher wanted to go back past her brother's work to Great Britain, from the surname I suspected Scotland or Scottish roots.  She had found the 1790 and 1800 census not too helpful.  Here are some suggestions I made to her that may be helpful to you.

1) Just because his name appears to be James, does not mean he never went by a nickname or that James wasn't his middle name.  Become familiar with the many nicknames besides Jim that a James could be called.  Be aware that sometimes a Jacob got called James.

2) Run general searches on databases to see if the name is particular to a country or a town. That's not to say that there won't be any Scots in say, France, but if you find that name has an important cluster in say, Sterling, that may be the place to go to work from there forward.  (i.e. records of who left there and came to American where and when.)

3) Do not depend on any electronic databases to provide you all the information you need.  The "old fashioned" methods still work and may be the best way to go.

4) Call the local historical societies and libraries where the family name appears on the 1790 and or 1800.  The smaller the town the better chance you have of encountering a librarian who will roll some microfilm only they hold or check an obituary for you, or that you will connect with some local person who is very proud to know who was who.

5) Don't assume that tombstone projects have counted all the people in the cemetery.  In some cemeteries more than half of the people under ground never had a tombstone in the first place.  They were too expensive.  Also consider that some families, especially who owned farm land, set aside land for a family cemetery.  Contact locals to find out who has those old cemetery records.

6) Look at old maps, such as Platt maps, land grant maps, and so on, to see if the surname features as a place name or road name. (Some of these old maps will show family cemeteries.)  I know someone whose big break came when she noticed a tiny dot that had the family surname and the word berries.

7) A whole lot of archives, courthouses, lawyers offices, and so on have gone up on fire!
Actually, records burned up in a fire accidently or on purpose is a reason or excuse I and so many others have encountered it really makes you wonder.  Ask again anyway.  Just incase the last time you asked a clerk was buried under work and had no time to really look. (And by the way that includes more recent Military Records.  Check out the NARA site for more information. You may get a letter with a government stamp stating that the person's service has been "recreated from other sources.")

8) Using databases that allow you to use wild card or phonetic searches and play around with spelling or letters in a name can sometimes make all the difference or be a crazy waste of time and you may not know till you try.  Consider that there is PENMANSHIP and then there is HANDWRITING.  Penmanship was stressed in the old days, and imagine one was dipping that quill back into the ink every few words!  Here are some quick suggestions.

a) Add an S to the end of the surname.  That's because people refer to Smith as Smiths if there is more than one of them and that's likely.  It's probably the most frequent "misspelling" you can find.
b) Consider that D, P, and sometimes T can look alike.  So can a T and a Z. That's the capitals.  When it comes to the vowels, so very many e's and i's not doted can be confused, and o's and a's.
c) It's possible that the surname has really been screwed up by someone imputing into a database with multiple errors, so try a search for everyone named Jim, then look closely for names that might be close.  I still think reading handwriting off microfilm can solve these mysteries.

9) DNA: ask experts which company is the best one for the type of test you want. Remember that there are currently no samples of Abraham Lincoln's DNA and they are not going to dig him up to get some.  You may want to gift some samples to your children and other relatives before you die, even if you aren't into this aspect of genealogy.  Possibly you will be connected by the company to those who have also submitted samples and they will have the information you need.

10) Was the person by any chance a member of the Masons or other Lodge or Secret Society?  Is there a family tradition of membership? Some have records fairly far back.

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